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Bierzo cherries affected by rainfall

"Spain: "We estimate that about 80% of the cherry harvest has been lost"

Almost all Spanish crops benefited from this year's rains, with one notable exception: the cherries from El Bierzo. For four years, its producers have been immersed in the procedures for the registration of a guarantee mark that came into force in 2016, and for two seasons they have been unable to start using the seal or to distribute even a thousand kilos of the sweet variety in the northern Spanish market, its area of ​​influence. The producers from this region of the province of Leon blame the hailstorm of 2017 and the storms this year for the seal's failed launch.

"The growers haven't harvested anything; we estimate that 80% of the production has probably been lost," says the technical director of the Berciana Association of Farmers (ABA), Pablo Linares, who is also technical director of the cherry guarantee brand Cereza del Bierzo. The end of the dry weather in 2018 prevented the Bierzo cherry production from reaching between 2,000 and 3,000 million kilos; normal figures in previous years. And the fact, according to Linares, is that the campaign had actually been expected to be good.

"There was a very good load on the trees and very good quality cherries; everything was going perfectly until spring began. It has been raining basically every day; nothing but rains, storms, rains, storms, etc. This is terrible for cherries, because excess water causes the fruit's surface to crack open, as the skin does not have the ability to dilate as much as required, given that amount of water absorbed. It therefore ends up breaking and this is called cracking," he explains.

According to the regulation of the guarantee mark, Bierzo cherries are characterised by having "very low acidity and (being) very sweet, with uniform and symmetrical shapes and a medium to large size. They are firm to the touch, crisp and juicy in the mouth." They don't have the reputation of Jerte cherries, nor do they account for the greatest number of hectares sown, but according to Linares, "the cherries from El Bierzo are appreciated within its bordering geographical area;" that is, in Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Country. According to the Survey on Surfaces and Crop Yields 2017 of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Aragon is the main cherry producer in Spain, with 12,448 hectares sown, followed by Extremadura, with 9,620.

Producer Florentina Rodríguez explains that another characteristic of this cherry is its short shelf life. Given that it is a natural variety, sprinkled only with sulphites to prevent aphid attacks, it must be consumed quickly, because otherwise, it spoils. Consequently, the market does not demand the fruit, because even though it tastes good and is the tastiest cherry in Spain, it is also the most fragile," he laments.

The weather recorded in 2017 and 2018 has delayed the launch of the quality seal, and this also has negative consequences for the consumer, because there was a time when hundreds of boxes of cherries labelled as Bierzo cherries were not actually from El Bierzo.

After two seasons with losses, the coordinators of the guarantee mark say that "producers may be tempted to think that cherries are not profitable, and the region's production volume may suffer as a result." This is actually what they are trying to avoid.


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